When, after six weeks of recruiting, North American sales chief Mark Ellis finally quit AOL to take a position with more responsibility (and more money) at a much larger and more powerful company, Yahoo, AOL tried to make it look like AOL had actually pushed Ellis out.How calculated was this plot?
Two sources tell us that on the day AOL announced Ellis’s departure internally – and leaked the story to the press – AOL advertising president Jeff Levick demanded Ellis submit his resignation immediately before Ellis was to board a flight. Resignation in hand, Levick waited until Ellis boarded that plane before pushing out the news. The move assured it would be hours before Ellis was back on the ground and able to correct any the subsequent “Ellis-got-canned” spin on the story.
Kara Swisher hinted at AOL’s efforts in a recent story on Ellis’s move:
While AOL portrayed the move as a well-planned reorganization in an internal memo, the departure of Ellis was a new wrinkle. Several sources said Armstrong found out a week ago about Yahoo’s interest in hiring Ellis, whom Yahoo had been pursing Ellis for far longer.
This is not the first time AOL left its clawmark on an exec quitting for Yahoo. When Shashi Seth quit AOL a year ago, he wrote in his email to Jeff Levick that he needed to move back West in part because he was having marital problems. Levick forwarded that email on to the entire AOL advertising email list.
Asked for response to a story about how “AOL tried to spin it like Ellis was pushed out, but was not,” an AOL spokesperson said “Not the case (and is old news).”
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